Georgia GOP senators hijack bill for culture war on trans treatment, sex ed and bathroom access

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

March 20, 2024

A bill aimed at protecting the mental health of student athletes became a bill banning transgender students from bathrooms, requiring schools to notify parents every time their child checks out a book from the school library, stopping transgender kids from participating in girls sports and banning sex education before sixth grade in a Senate committee Tuesday.

As the number of days left in the 2024 Legislative session decreases to a few days, lawmakers are tempted to graft legislation that has not yet passed one of the two chambers onto bills that have, giving their seemingly dead bills a new chance to reach the governor’s desk.

“Each provision of this bill is strongly supported by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to propose this legislation and these several pieces of the different bills, many of which we have heard in this committee and passed out of committee this session,” said Senate Education and Youth Committee Chair Clint Dixon. “While this bill has several parts, I think they each have a common thread of empowering parents to ensure that children are learning and competing in safe and supportive atmospheres, also dealing with sports.”

But LGBTQ+ advocates called the bill and the legislative maneuvering contemptible. State senators earlier this month added language banning puberty-blocking drugs from being prescribed to transgender minors to a bill expanding the availability of overdose prevention drugs.

“This is disgraceful politics: hijacking one bill designed to address student-athlete mental health concerns and another designed to fight the opioid crisis, and replacing them with attacks on Georgia’s LGBTQ+ youth,” said Human Rights Campaign Georgia Director Bentley Hudgins.

“The original bills garnered overwhelming support in the House and held the promise of improving the lives of individuals in crisis. Instead, they have been transformed into legislation that jeopardizes the well-being of our LGBTQ+ youth. Georgia’s lawmakers should focus on passing solutions that address real problems that our citizens face.”

Decatur Democratic Rep. Omari Crawford, the original sponsor of the mental health bill, did not appear happy with the changes. He requested the committee not hold a vote and said he wants the language from his bill moved to a different one. The text of his bill remains partially intact within the new one, with references to private schools stripped out.

Democrats on the committee expressed outrage with the process.

“I wanted to just first acknowledge that Rep. Crawford’s bill is now filled with a bunch of bills that have, as they’ve been vetted through this committee, been some of the more contentious conversations that we’ve had over the course of this biennium,” said Atlanta Democratic Sen. Sonya Halpern.

“And so I feel sorry for the gentleman, Rep. Crawford, who’s now, for his first bill, got it filled with stuff that’s not going to be easy for everybody to get behind as his bill was when it came through the House,” she added.

Sex Ed

Atlanta Democratic Sen. Elena Parent had questions about the sex education portion of the bill, which was originally authored by Dixon as Senate Bill 532. The bill does not allow for lessons about reproduction before sixth grade, but does allow discussion of menstruation.

“How are the schools supposed to talk about menstruation without talking about human reproduction, which is forbidden before sixth grade?” Parent asked.

“I am not a woman, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once,” Dixon said with a laugh. “But I would say to the reproductive organ part of it or whatnot, I don’t think that would align with sex education.”

“So you think you can talk to a girl about menstruation without touching on any aspect of human reproduction? Because that’s what the bill – How? Please let us know.”

“That’s a great question,” Dixon said. “I’ve got two daughters. One is currently going through puberty, and my wife and I have been able to successfully, with her guidance and her leadership, my wife’s leadership, have had those conversations with her without talking about reproduction.”

“So you talked about – you don’t give any explanation for why the menstruation is happening?” Parent asked. “Because if you give an explanation for why it’s happening, that involves human reproduction, and I can stop going down this line, I’ll just posit to you that I think that that is a practical impossibility that is contained in the bill.”

“It was a great question, I appreciate you bringing that forward,” Dixon said. “My wife may have handled that part of it with my daughter as I handled that part with my son, but I think that’s appropriate for parents to do that.”

School Libraries

Another aspect of the bill is a push by Cumming Republican Sen. Greg Dolezal to require libraries to notify parents of what materials their children are checking out.

Under the language of what was originally Senate Bill 365, local boards of education would have to devise policies to allow parents to opt into being automatically notified each time their child checks out a book from the library.

Another Dolezal library bill which would remove an exemption for school librarians to the state’s law concerning distributing harmful materials to minors is presumed dead after failing to cross over by the legislative deadline.

A bill by Perry Republican Sen. Larry Walker pulling Georgia out of the American Library Association, a group conservatives say has become too woke, is still alive. It was debated by the House Higher Education Committee Monday but did not receive a vote.

Transgender Bans

Another new portion of the bill is based on Senate Bill 438 by Cordele Republican Sen. Carden Summers and reaffirms Georgia’s ban on transgender students participating in school sports.

“This bill requires public schools and private schools that participate in sport leagues with public schools to not permit boys to compete in sports that are designated for girls, no matter the gender identity that one may claim at that time for sporting events,” Dixon said. “It also prohibits schools from allowing boys to use multiple occupant restrooms for changing areas designated for girls.”

Dixon sought to cast the bill as pro-woman.

“I’d just like to go back to, you know, females, which I’m not one, y’all have been fighting for your rights for equal places in all aspects of our lives, and here we are, carving or digging away at this, allowing biological males to beat in female sports, and it’s a common sense thing to protect females here, in the restroom and in sports,” he said.

The men on the committee, all Republicans, agreed, voting unanimously in favor of the bill, but the three women on the committee, all Democrats, voted no.

If the bill is to become law, it must pass the Senate and the House before the end of the session, March 28.

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